Confinements of Society
By Jana Elsayed
Discussed: racial or religious discrimination
This is a college essay about diversity, confinement and the upbringing within a small, narrow-minded community.
Growing up in an apartment while everyone else was raised in two-story houses, my differences were made apparent from a young age. I could easily hide the economic aspect. The visual aspects are what truly made me stand out. Physically, it was obvious that my skin was not the same shade as anyone else’s, my hair was not the same texture, my body was not the same size. Moreover, the stark religious differences between my peers and me became more apparent the older we got.
My elementary school attempted to commoditize my differences. Even though I spoke fluent English, I was put in ESL classes to profit off this—ensuring they received more money from the Department of Education. All of these differences made me a red flag in a sea of red, white and blue ones. I was always made to be the outsider, even after I attempted to adopt the colors white and blue. I tried to straighten my hair and adopt different values than those my family was trying to instill into me. I even altered the pronunciation of my name to make it easier for others, removing another layer of my identity for the comfort of those around me. But this society held no space for me—there was no place for an Arab American in the Irish Catholic Rockaway Strong community. I knew this every time I visited a friend’s house and saw their paranoia that I—a young Muslim girl—was there.
After attending a completely white elementary school and middle school, I started school in one of the most diverse high schools in New York. Yet even though this school is one of the most diverse in the country, it still sits in the Rockaway community, mostly staffed by white teachers and administrators who all shared the narrow community mindset I grew up with. Once again, I found myself and other students of color trying to conform to win the preferential treatment that was awarded to white students by their teachers, who were also their neighbors and family friends.
When a child grows up without representation, they start to feel like they don’t belong. Having grown up in such an environment, I never felt a sense of belonging. My identity felt paper-thin. However, as I experienced hardships, I learned to turn to my religion and embrace my own culture. I went from not praying the required amount and ignoring other religious responsibilities to aiding in the creation of a Muslim Student Association at my high school.
As society tries to continuously ram immigrants, people of color and LGBTQ+ communities into submissive conformity, it is important that these persecuted communities fight back relentlessly. We have to make our voices heard and allow the color of our skin, the texture of our hair, our bold facial features and our unrelenting spirit to shine through. We have to especially stop letting educators create a narrative of “others” that confines us. Looking ahead to the future, I am committed to staying active in tackling this vital issue and helping youth across the country embrace their own identities.
The process required in the production of this essay was a clear mirror reflection of my identity and the lessons I learned through my upbringing. Once I was able to write down all my thoughts and memories I wanted to include in the essay, I had the help of my amazing mentor. She was able to read through everything I had written, and edit it to be a concise, thought-out essay. Once it was edited, I read through it once more to ensure that everything I wanted to reflect on was included, and from there it was submitted.
Jana Elsayed is a dedicated and devoted junior in high school. She keeps busy not only with her school work, but also with her extracurriculars, including a club she founded in 2018, Female Empowerment Movement, or F.E.M., New Generation Civic Politics Fellowship and Girls Write Now. With all that she does, she still finds the time to keep up with her hobbies and have some semblance of a social life.